RIGHT TO COUNSEL State v. Langley, 351 Or. 652 (2012) Oregon Supreme Court

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1 RIGHT TO COUNSEL State v. Langley, 351 Or. 652 (2012) Oregon Supreme Court FACTS In December 1989, a jury found defendant Langley guilty of murdering a woman named Ann Gray. A few months later, Langley was sentenced to death. It was a gruesome murder, in which the defendant duct taped the victim s mouth and nose and let her suffocate to death, then buried her in his aunt s yard. Langley had severe mental and emotional disorders. In 1992, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but vacated defendant's death sentence on the ground that the trial court had failed to give a proper jury instruction on the consideration and use of mitigating evidence. What does that mean? This means that the court a) thought the jury was correct in finding him guilty but b) didn t think the death sentence was appropriate because the jury didn t know they were supposed to consider other factors, like Langley s mental illness, in deciding the sentence. So the case went back to sentencing to decide what punishment the defendant would get. Langley was again given the death penalty, and he appealed. But, again, the Supreme Court of Oregon vacated the sentence. This time, the Supreme Court didn t think the trial court told the jury that they had the option of sentencing him with a truelife sentence. This means a life sentence with no possibility for parole, meaning no matter what he would never get out of jail. The court sent the case back to sentencing, hoping they d get it right this time. This is when the problems with the lawyers began. Langley had two lawyers appointed to represent him from the public defender s office. After they kept asking for more time to prepare for the trial (called continuances ), the Judge decided they were not capable of providing a good defense, so he took them off the case and appointed different lawyers. Langley was unhappy with this decision, and he refused to cooperate with any of the other lawyers that were appointed for him. Eventually, the original judge became so frustrated with Langley s lack of cooperation and with having to appoint lawyer after lawyer to represent him that the judge recused himself. This means that he removed himself as judge from the case because he didn t think he could provide a fair trial anymore, probably because he was so frustrated with the defendant. A new judge was put on the trial, but even after that happened Langley refused to cooperate with any of his appointed lawyers and supported their motions to withdraw from the case (essentially, quit). The new judge finally gave Langley an ultimatum: either he works with the lawyer that was appointed for him, he represents himself with that lawyer as standby counsel, or he represents himself without a lawyer. Criminal defendants are allowed to represent themselves in a trial (called pro se ) but they have to waive their right to counsel knowingly and voluntarily. That means they have to a) know what the potential consequences of waiving counsel are and b) not have been coerced into waiving this right by anyone. Also, in Oregon, waiver must be intentional. That means that the defendant s intent to waive his right must be absolutely clear. Even though defendants

2 have this right it is almost never a good idea: defendants who proceed pro se don t do so well in court. Langley responded that he didn t agree to any of those options and that the court should just decide for him. The judge then declared that Langley would proceed pro se. The judge said that Langley s inability to make a decision indicated that he didn t want a lawyer anymore. Although a criminal defendant has the right to be represented, they don t have the right to choose their lawyer if one is being appointed for them by the court. For the third time, the sentencing court sentenced Langley to the death penalty. Finally, in 2012, the Supreme Court decided that it was not appropriate for the lower court to make the decision that Langley would represent himself. His refusal to make any decision or to cooperate, the court said, did NOT represent a knowing and intentional waiver of the constitutional right to counsel. The court sent the case back to sentencing again, to decide what Langley s punishment would be. Article I, Section 11 of the Oregon Constitution: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have the right to be heard by himself and counsel 6 th Amendment of the US Constitution: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence [sic].

3 HANDOUT QUESTIONS 1. What are mitigating factors and why is it important for the jury to consider these factors as they decide what sentence to give a convicted person? 2. Why is the right to counsel a constitutionally protected right? Consider this: when Langley appeared pro se, he went to court in his white prison jumpsuit, did not deliver an opening statement or closing argument and did not cross-examine witnesses. 3. What were the sentencing judge s reasons for giving Langley the ultimatum? Do you think it was understandable that he did so? Keep in mind that by that time the defendant had had 5 trial dates and 7 different attorneys. 4. What would have to happen for a defendant to knowingly and intentionally waive his or her right to counsel? Does it have to be with words, or could it be with actions too? Give some examples. 5. What responsibilities does the Judge have in making sure a defendant s waiver is knowing and intentional? 6. Even after all this, Langley is still a convicted murderer. However, 23 years after his conviction, he still doesn t know what his sentence is. Does this strike you as odd? Why do you think the courts are being so careful to make sure sentencing is done right? If he s guilty anyway, why does it matter if he is represented at sentencing?

4 RIGHT TO COUNSEL State v. Langley, 351 Or. 652 (2012) Oregon Supreme Court FACTS In December 1989, a jury found defendant Langley guilty of murdering a woman named Ann Gray. A few months later, Langley was sentenced to death. It was a gruesome murder, in which the defendant duct taped the victim s mouth and nose and let her suffocate to death, then buried her in his aunt s yard. Langley had severe mental and emotional disorders. In 1992, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but vacated defendant's death sentence on the ground that the trial court had failed to give a proper jury instruction on the consideration and use of mitigating evidence. What does that mean? This means that the court a) thought the jury was correct in finding him guilty but b) didn t think the death sentence was appropriate because the jury didn t know they were supposed to consider other factors, like Langley s mental illness, in deciding the sentence. So the case went back to sentencing to decide what punishment the defendant would get. Langley was again given the death penalty, and he appealed. But, again, the Supreme Court of Oregon vacated the sentence. This time, the Supreme Court didn t think the trial court told the jury that they had the option of sentencing him with a truelife sentence. This means a life sentence with no possibility for parole, meaning no matter what he would never get out of jail. The court sent the case back to sentencing, hoping they d get it right this time. This is when the problems with the lawyers began. Langley had two lawyers appointed to represent him from the public defender s office. After they kept asking for more time to prepare for the trial (called continuances ), the Judge decided they were not capable of providing a good defense, so he took them off the case and appointed different lawyers. Langley was unhappy with this decision, and he refused to cooperate with any of the other lawyers that were appointed for him. Eventually, the original judge became so frustrated with Langley s lack of cooperation and with having to appoint lawyer after lawyer to represent him that the judge recused himself. This means that he removed himself as judge from the case because he didn t think he could provide a fair trial anymore, probably because he was so frustrated with the defendant. A new judge was put on the trial, but even after that happened Langley refused to cooperate with any of his appointed lawyers and supported their motions to withdraw from the case (essentially, quit). The new judge finally gave Langley an ultimatum: either he works with the lawyer that was appointed for him, he represents himself with that lawyer as standby counsel, or he represents himself without a lawyer. Criminal defendants are allowed to represent themselves in a trial (called pro se ) but they have to waive their right to counsel knowingly and voluntarily. That means they have to a) know what the potential consequences of waiving counsel are and b) not have been coerced into waiving this right by anyone. Also, in Oregon, waiver must be intentional. That means that the defendant s intent to waive his right must be absolutely clear. Even though defendants

5 have this right it is almost never a good idea: defendants who proceed pro se don t do so well in court. Langley responded that he didn t agree to any of those options and that the court should just decide for him. The judge then declared that Langley would proceed pro se. The judge said that Langley s inability to make a decision indicated that he didn t want a lawyer anymore. Although a criminal defendant has the right to be represented, they don t have the right to choose their lawyer if one is being appointed for them by the court. For the third time, the sentencing court sentenced Langley to the death penalty. Finally, in 2012, the Supreme Court decided that it was not appropriate for the lower court to make the decision that Langley would represent himself. His refusal to make any decision or to cooperate, the court said, did NOT represent a knowing and intentional waiver of the constitutional right to counsel. The court sent the case back to sentencing again, to decide what Langley s punishment would be. Article I, Section 11 of the Oregon Constitution: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall have the right to be heard by himself and counsel 6 th Amendment of the US Constitution: In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence [sic]. ISSUES Did defendant s conduct constitute a knowing and intentional waiver of his constitutional right to counsel at the sentencing phase of his capital murder trial? WHAT HAPPENED AT TRIAL? On review, the Oregon Supreme Court addressed only one of the 27 assignments of error that were the basis of the defendant s appeal. They found that a defendant s refusal to cooperate with counsel and repeated requests for new counsel did not constitute a knowing and intelligent waiver of counsel. HOW DID THIS CASE REACH THE SUPREME COURT OF OREGON? The defendant appealed his sentence (not his conviction), citing 27 assignments of error from his third sentencing trial. ARGUMENTS Langley s (defendant s) arguments: 1. The court erred by requiring defendant to proceed at sentencing pro se. 2. The court did not secure a valid waiver of his right to counsel, and therefore was violating his constitutional rights.

6 State s (prosecutor s) arguments: 1. Langley s refusal to cooperate with any appointed counsel, and his refusal to choose either appointed counsel or pro se representation, constituted misconduct. 2. This misconduct was severe enough to infer a waiver of the right to counsel. WHO WON? Langley won. The court held that a knowing and intentional waiver of the right to counsel in a criminal case could not be inferred from refusal to cooperate with counsel or the court. While conduct could be severe enough to be inferred as a waiver of the right to counsel, it must be accompanied by explicit warnings from the court that continuing that conduct would result in pro se representation. HOW DID THE SUPREME COURT EXPLAIN ITS DECISION? The court focused on the failure of the lower court to show that Langley was committing enough misconduct from which a waiver could be inferred, especially since there was no indication on the record that he had been warned by the court that a failure to make a decision would result in him being forced to proceed pro se. Langley repeatedly mentioned that he did not want to proceed pro se, making it even more difficult for the lower court to justify its decision. The court also focused on the fact that the lower court refused to review Langley s affidavit supporting the withdrawal of his lawyers. The fact that there could have been a legitimate reason that Langley didn t want those lawyers was never considered by the court. Had he asserted those reasons in open court, he would have had to reveal privileged attorney-client communications to the entire courtroom. The supreme court also noted that it was inappropriate for the sentencing court to give the choice of his current counsel or no counsel to the defendant, so it was understandable that the defendant didn t make a choice from those given. Finally, the court noted that the error made was not a harmless error (meaning it did affect the result of sentencing to the defendant s detriment) and therefore had to be remanded for re-sentencing. APPLICATION 1. This opinion is significant for three concepts: a. Denial of a constitutionally protected right to a criminal defendant can vacate a conviction or sentence. b. While criminal defendants may waive their constitutional rights, there is an extremely high threshold for recognizing a waiver and extremely strict standards that must be adhered to for a waiver to be valid. c. Procedural fairness and defendant protections have nothing to do with whether the defendant is guilty or innocent. They must be applied to all defendants

7 2. Students will hopefully recognize the importance of the 6 th amendment for criminal defendants, and will be able to think critically about the importance of preserving these rights, even for guilty defendants. a. Have them think about how protecting guilty defendants helps innocent defendants as well. b. Have them think about the potential ramifications of proceeding pro se as a criminal defendant. i. Are there any potential benefits?

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